Alysia Reiner ’92 knows something about playing women in roles of power. For three seasons, she’s played Natalie “Fig” Figueroa, the former assistant prison warden, on Orange Is the New Black.
In her latest role, Reiner is both actress and producer for Equity, a female-driven Wall Street thriller that opened at the end of July. She first became involved in the film when approached by colleague—and fellow Equity producer—Sarah Megan Thomas with the seed of an idea for a story about women on Wall Street. The two began researching the topic and developing a plot.
“When we started making the film, we did a lot of our own investigation and detective work to decide what we wanted to write about,” Reiner says. “We developed it by talking to all of these amazing women on Wall Street. Some of them became our investors, which was really great.”
After writing a few pages, the producers went looking for a writer and zeroed in on Amy Fox, with whom they both had worked. At first, Fox was unavailable—she’d just given birth—but when approached later after another director fell through, she signed on in 2014. By early 2015, the script was ready, director Meera Menon had signed on, and filming began, Reiner says.
Since then, Equity has been shown at several film festivals—it was bought by Sony Pictures Classics at Sundance.
In the film, Reiner plays a prosecutor who is running an investigation on Anna Gunn’s character, a Wall Street banker who is taking a social media company public. Reiner says she won’t reveal any more details, leaving audiences guessing whether Gunn’s character is actually guilty of any malfeasance.
Using a social media IPO as a plot device was her idea because it’s a natural fit in today’s world of investments, given the intangibility of the product, she says.
“I find it fascinating, with so many items on the stock market—sugar, pork bellies, gold—that in the past, it’s been very clear that there is value there. But with social media, it’s this deeply ephemeral thing that we’re valuing at billions of dollars,” Reiner says.
In our Wall Street-wary times, there have been plenty of films on the greed of Wall Street, the housing bubble, the failure of investment banks, and more. One common denominator is their nearly all-male casts, Reiner says.
In Equity, the female characters are involved in high-stakes careers, but are also shown making personal decisions about their families, she says. It’s a topic that’s important to her—statistically, when you look at the top levels of corporate America, women’s participation is in the single digits—and Reiner says she is hoping the movie can be an agent of change.
“One of the important pieces of how we help each other as women in the workforce is the way we advocate for one another. This film really inspired me to want to mentor more. I encourage all women [who are] experienced and have a hearty career to be mentors and those who aren’t and just starting out to seek out mentorship. It really is a fantastic way to change things,” Reiner says.